Whether it’s dyslexia (a specific learning disability) or writing, attention, organization, or other learning and behavioral difficulties, children who struggle in school need teachers who can help them learn.
Sometimes that help can occur in a general class setting. Other times a child might benefit from small group or individualized assistance. That’s what special education has always been about.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and Understood.org. published a paper called “Forward Together: Helping Educators Unlock the power of Students Who Learn Differently”. I have skimmed it and will read it more completely. It’s sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The report is like similar recent reports implying that general education teachers are not prepared to teach students with learning disabilities. This raises concerns about teacher training and credentials.
Why do general education teachers feel unprepared to work with students with learning disabilities? Perhaps it’s because they were never originally expected to work extensively with students with learning disabilities.
A trip down memory lane.
In the 1970s, following the signing of Public Law 94-142, the special education bill opening public schools to all students with disabilities, teacher education changed to accommodate students with difficulties learning.
Special education was broken into categories. One was Learning Disabilities or Specific Learning Disabilities.
To teach children with learning disabilities, a teacher had to have special university preparation.
Classes involved psychology, understanding learning disabilities, LD behavior, testing, identification, speech and language pathology, and language classes, some involving what’s called brain science today.
Corrective reading and how to pinpoint math disabilities was especially important.
Coursework concerned curriculum methods and materials and how to work with students. We used textbooks like Children with Learning Disabilities: Theories, Diagnosis, and Teaching Strategies by Janet W. Lerner.
Teachers participated in practicums and student teaching, which were supervised experiences working with children with learning disabilities in the classroom.
Teachers also had seminars where they wrote research papers about students with learning disabilities. I looked at the connection between juvenile delinquency and learning disabilities.
Once teachers completed their studies, they received state certification in Learning Disabilities to work with children, usually in resource classes. These classes were small. They provided an hour or two of extensive language arts and reading (with phonics) daily and/or math instruction to students with learning disabilities.
Learning disability specialists also collaborated with general ed. teachers to help students in the general classroom. We called it mainstreaming.
Public school administrators took state credentials seriously. For example, I taught in a high school in need of a math teacher with LD credentials. They hired a general ed. math teacher, but the job was conditional until they earned LD credentials.
Why don’t teachers get specialized instruction in learning disabilities like they used to?
Why does it fall on the general ed. teacher to be responsible for students with learning disabilities? Most teachers today get little instruction about learning disabilities.
What happened to strict credential requirements of teachers who will work with students who have learning disabilities?
Politicians and corporate shills never wanted to pay for special education. So, they chipped away at the rules. In the late 90s the federal government decided to reauthorize PL 94-142 to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Many activists advocated for children with learning disabilities to be in general classes. Parents were led to believe that special classes weren’t good.
This had a name. It was called the Regular Education Initiative or REI. It was controversial and divided parents and scholars.
Special ed. professor James M. Kauffman said:
The REI is, however, consistent with the Reagan-Bush policy objectives of reducing federal influence and expenditures for education, which have resulted in declining federal support for programs designed to ensure equity in education of the disadvantaged and handicapped.
Laurence Lieberman, former special education teacher and learning-disabilities coordinator for the U.S. Office of Education and chairman of the special education doctoral program at Boston College, described IDEA 97 as changing the focus from individualization, the original intent of the law, to general education.
Parents have been duped into thinking that their children will be better off with group process than with individual attention to their needs.
IDEA was reauthorized further in 2004. As the report above notes: In 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reaffirmed the rights of children with disabilities to a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
Many parents no longer wanted individual support. They wanted their children to be in general classes where they would do standardized work and take the standardized tests like all students.
They were also originally promised that their children would get support in the inclusive class from a learning disability specialist. I wonder where this still happens.
Intensive teacher preparation for learning disabilities fell by the wayside.
Not only do general ed. teachers take few courses in learning disabilities, most have large class sizes. This makes it difficult to address the individual needs of students with learning disabilities.
Parents don’t seem to question why their child isn’t getting the individualized attention they need and deserve in a resource class.
But they often worry that their children may not be identified as having learning disabilities, or that they aren’t getting the services they need in the general education class.
It could be due to efforts to keep children out of special education. Many politicians and corporate school reformers still want to deny students public school special education assistance.
For children who really do have learning disabilities, the special help they should be getting with a well-prepared credentialed teacher who studies learning disabilities is lost.
It’s a good idea to revisit the past and study how we used to help children with learning disabilities.
And, by all means…start with teacher education.
James M. Kauffman. “The Regular Education Initiative as Reagan-Bush Education Policy: A Trickle Down Theory of Education of the Hard-to-Teach.” Journal of Special Education. 22(3), 1989.
Lawrence M. Lieberman. “The Death of Special Education.” Education Week. 20.
Yes and it causes much contentions. Also note that many kids get intensive classes but the programs chosen are awful and not until secondary. If they get any interventions in elementary it’s by the gen ed teacher or the computer program du jour (currently iready) They should be getting early intervention. Most of our dyslexic community are mainstreamed with their intellectual peers but the only ones who succeed are those who have strong parent advocates with the ability and means to help. We have quite a few who are in advanced, honors and AP classes with accommodations and assistive tech…….that the parents had to learn and teach them to use. I had to teach my kids’ teams about Learning Ally. They allow them to use it but I had to sign that I am aware these aren’t allowed on the test (they don’t like to give anything that isn’t allowed on “the test) none of the teachers are trained to help them even though they can assign books. In order for me to learn what is available I sought out post secondary disability departments and learned about what they offer——-mostly UDL and tutoring and separate testing space……or reduced courseload. When I brought these up to our teams even the ESE specialists and reading coaches were not informed. They nixed every accomodation I brought to the table. And our evaluator was the district dyslexia trainer (we have 2 in a district of over 80,000)
I also think many educators today have low expectations for those with LD/SLD. And if teachers aren’t trained to recognize these issues the kids get labeled as lazy or a behavior problem (it’s hard to behave when you can’t read or write proficiently) or that they are stupid……when nothing could be further from the truth. They also feel classroom accommodations are just a crutch.
Many have broken off to start their own schools or non profits just for kids with ASD/LD/SLD and now they are even more segregated. It is the new civil rights issue.
First it was women, then African Americans now ELL/LD who aren’t considered worthy of a proper education.
There are also many landmark cases of people who had to sue in order to take bar exams and medical board exams with accommodations. But that takes a lot of time and $$$$$$.
You just enumerated all the reasons why it was idiotic to eliminate LD teachers, resource rooms, and self contained classrooms. I taught LA, math, and reading in a self contained setting at the middle school and high school level. I also supported several general ed classrooms in all academic areas at the middle school level. There is no way the students who struggled with significant learning issues could handle the general classroom without significant support, whether in class or in a resource room. Frequently the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for an individual was a self contained classroom. LRE does NOT mean the general ed classroom is the default. LRE is a term to be applied to each individual student. In some cases that is not the general ed room. Unfortunately, forcing a student into a gen ed classroom can reinforce all the negative stereotypes that have been applied to these students over the years. That is not to say that some students should not be “mainstreamed.” They should; that is the goal but only when it is right for that student.
Nancy Bailey says
Well put! Thank you!
I hope so. Many kids I speak with in the SVE
Classes here have mentioned they are usually doing chores for the teacher.
We have had to form parent groups to help one another.
I noticed the grassroots parent group in Arkansas were demolished for having ties to companies——but the leader of DD Arkansas is a former teacher. I also noticed many names on the rebuttal match the names of those who sell curriculum. So they have a lot to lose..
I was told to hire tutors by my own child’s educators. So I had to learn how to teach my own kids. I started getting even more suspicious when I noticed the amount of kids on IEP’s in the district I live in and then again when the ESE teachers were writing IEP kids they’ve never met , and then again when the ESE teachers were asking me how to help their own kids 🤷♀️
Nancy Bailey says
Bethany, your complaints about the teachers are so pervasive in everything you write that it is discouraging.
What are we to think when you say students are doing chores for the teacher?
Why don’t you complain directly to the teachers or the school if you think teachers are misbehaving or if you believe there’s a scandal when it comes to reading at the school? I think your concerns would fall on ears that might be able to assist you.
I was one who questioned the PBS program in Arkansas because it was one-sided.
Having worked many years with students with reading disabilities, I find it troubling when parents claim that they have to tell teachers how to teach.
I am also puzzled and worried about the claim that so many children have dyslexia and that their schools are not helping them. I really do worry that children are being pushed to read too soon due to corporate reform.
When I read of parents who are upset their 3- year-old children can’t read that worries me too.
The teacher shortage and watching teachers being replaced by TFA and tech worries me too.
I do agree with that.
Itbis a teacher shortage and misspending.
Not really a lack of care.
It is developmwntallyninappropriate And they are encumbered by ccss and their overlords
But I do know teachers who work smarter instead of harder. And are fully aware that early identification is possible.
But teachers whondone take parent concerns or a team effort by a multi-disciplinary team is discouraging
Many are left to do it themselves so they have found ways.
Most would take it up with the school’s if their lawyers weren’t bigger. The fact that most teachers are tanking their kids out is very telling
You also have to remember I live in a very hostile district in a very hostile state.
I came here starry eyed and ready to be involved only to learn fast that you are either a have or a have not. The choices are inclusion or varying exceptionalities. There’s very little in between. You’re either a
Money maker or you’re tossed aside as one of “those” kids. Luckily my kids are well behaved and well liked but that doesn’t make up for lack of educational supports. They are well liked at Target too. We’ve had well intentioned teachers and about 3 helpful teachers who listened and were thoughtful and helpful.
I have also lived in a great district which was very well run with great happy, joyful teachers who were creative and differentiated very well. They didn’t just assume you either learn or you don’t. .
Nancy Bailey says
This is certainly true. I just worry about the negativity surrounding teachers these days since they are leaving the field. But I know some teachers are tired and others are burned out. I’m sorry you are not in a good situation.
Marcia Edwards-Sealey says
The disability rights lobby is partly to be blamed for the under education of students with special needs. They lobbied for inclusion, and the education authorities agreed, because there was an economic benefit; not because inclusion was a more effective way to cater to the unique needs of SEN students. I do not agree with a general inclusion policy, because most times the current teaching methods do not effectively take care of the needs of SEN students. I worked as an Education Assistant, and my oft repeated mantra was-placing a child with SEN in the general education classroom does not erase their cognitive deficits.
Inclusion does not consider the characteristics of different types of LDs; neither does it take into consideration remediation strategies- (Dr. Louisa Moates who is a reading specialist intimated that one thing her training never taught her was-how to apply remediation skills
to the students with LDS). Students are placed in the regular classroom,and they are expected to participate as normal. There is the fallacious belief, that if students are among peers, they will automatically pick up. However, this is a mistaken belief because most of the students have developmental delays through abnormal brain development, and placing them among same age typical peers cannot repair their deficits. Dr. Doreen Granpisheh a practitioner in the area of autism emphasized that students with autism need to be taught everything, and they are most likely to copy the wrong things from their peers , rather than the right things.
I have worked with many different SEN students of different developmental levels, and what I have observed is that , overall, students are never given the intense interventions they need from their inception, and their problems fester, and by the time serious learning begins-from middle school on-they have not developed the ability to enable them to participate. I think that the general belief that it is useless expending any effort on them. I once was working with a student with autism, who was obsessed with the alphabet, and I thought that could be used as a platform to teach him reading; the teacher disagreed, and asked if I think he would ever amount to anything; I told him that given his propensity for hyper focusing, he could probably become a programmer, and he sneered at me. I had great empathy for my students, and was interested in helping them reach the height of their competence, but those holding the power never shared my views because of their ignorance of SEN.
I have grown to hate the term special education because it conveys the idea of a terminal condition- stunted cognitive development-with no remedy for treatment.
Nancy Bailey says
You make some excellent points.
I agree about special education. I think it’s time to change.
Have you met Ido?
Nancy Bailey says
I always value hearing about a student’s experience, but he seems negative about his teachers and I’d like to hear their side.
Also interesting is that he references Ivar Lovaas. As a student, I heard Lovaas speak at FSU in the late 70s. He was a behaviorist who was controversial for his use of electric shocks for autistic students.
Many agree that ABA is useful for some students with autism, but not shocking thank goodness.
I agree. I was taught Lovass methods and discrete trials. I left because I felt like it was trying to make kids “normal”
I believe ABA has come a long way but it’s not my preference
Nancy Bailey says
Lots to explore in this comment, Bethany. I think others are providing interesting replies..
I get that but it’s funny how the classroom teachers knew exactly what my kids needed but couldn’t provide it due to being forced to use the current curriculum.
They would say, phonics, fluency, comprehension
But then send home lists of whole words 🤷♀️
Many kids learn to read without any formal
Instruction. They don’t need it. Hey don’t have any deficits. Those are he kids he teachers like to teach because they pretty much teach themselves.
If I say phonology, Morphology, syntax semantics
I get blank stares
I do however love the veteran teachers. They usually pull me aside and say “You need to be doing this for more kids”
They know that phonics is important as well as handwriting.
Those things aren’t taught at all anymore
It’s all about rote memorization and regurgitation of non meaningful facts.
If I hear or see one more educator say skippy frog or get your mouth ready I may just explode.
Nancy Bailey says
Yes. I think “skippy frog” or “get your mouth ready” would drive me over the edge. LOL!
Linda refling says
If you are a teacher with the mind set that each child learns differently and at their own pace then you don’t need special ed classes. What you need is for administrative people to stop buying preset curriculum that does not fit every child. Give the teachers the freedom to deviate to meet the needs of all children. Also stop over loading classrooms with too many students.
A retired teacher from public schools to a private pre-K class.
Nancy Bailey says
I disagree with the first part. I think it is important for teachers to have university coursework and to understand learning disabilities, and how to teach.
I agree that teachers should have freedom to choose programs and not have overcrowded classrooms.
Thank you for your comment.
Christine Langhoff says
Thanks, Nancy. I read that EdWeek piece and felt as if I’d fallen throught the looking glass. Gates et al are on a campaign to discredeit traditionally trained teachers. The methodology of these studies seems questionable at best – surveys? How many resondents are TFA’s or othr alt-certified teachers? And the headline is contradicted by the opening paragraph:
“Most Classroom Teachers Feel Unprepared to Support Students With Disabilities
By Corey Mitchell on May 29, 2019 2:40 PM
Less than 1 in 5 general education teachers feel “very well prepared” to teach students with mild to moderate learning disabilities, including ADHD and dyslexia, according to a new survey from two national advocacy groups.”
Less than 20% feeling “very well prepared” does not equal “most…feel unprepared”
I taught during those good old days with resource rooms with 8-12 kids to one teacher. It was a model that worked and intergrated kids into mainstream classes with appropriate support. Now one teacher is expected to differentiate for a class of 25 and do all the work of a resource teacher, while also addressing the needs of ELL kids.
As one Boston teacher explained – I’ll teach all my students as best I can, but I can’t do three jobs at once.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Christine! I agree. I am collecting Ed. Week articles that start with “Teachers are unprepared…”
Well, teachers are leaving and what will be left? iReady etc. and all-tech.
You’re right. It used to work for most students.
Roy Turrentine says
Right as rain, Nancy. As a regular Ed teacher, I was never trained in any special methods to help kids with specific disability, and Inservice focused almost entirely on building empathy. Most teachers I know are eat up with empathy. What we need is stuff to do that will work and that we can actually do in the time we do not have. Otherwise, the kids need to be in small classes with well trained teachers who know what they are doing.
Nancy Bailey says
As a special ed. teacher I always learned a lot from regular ed. teachers too. I think their classes are usually always too large. Thanks, Roy!
Nancy Bailey says
My thanks to the NEPC.